Gage Martin pushed his way through the thorns and brush into the cold glare of the mid day sun. The temperature was sufficiently low that the frost still clung stubbornly to the plants about him. Standing on the edge of a small canyon, with the river boiling through the narrow channel a hundred feet below, he could hear the sounds of pursuit getting closer. Looking below him, he could see no passable way down the face of the drop off. Just an old, twisted cedar, clinging precariously to the cliff wall. To either side of him, the blackberry brambles and fallen pines prevented a quick escape.
Looking back, between the trunks of the towering evergreens, he could catch glimpses of his pursuers. He knew his trail would not be hard to follow. Tearing through the brush in his hurry to escape, breaking branches, trampling through briers, with his clothes being torn apart, he must have left a trail a blind man could follow.
His faced scratched and bloody, his lungs screaming for air, and with no where else to run, Gage realized he had only one option. At the same instant, one of his pursuers spotted him and let go a hasty shot with his pistol. The range was marginal for a handgun, but the bullet came uncomfortably close. Gage could hear the snapping of twigs as it cut the brush just a few feet to the right of him. Already having made his decision, he wasted no more time and leaped into the chasm.
As he plummeted down the face of the cliff he watched as the branches of the ancient cedar rush up to meet him. He crashed into the gnarled tree, and felt stabs of pain and heard the tearing of fabric. The branches held him for a moment only and then he was falling again. Only ten feet down, he hit a small ledge and bounced out into space. He plunged the rest of the way down and into the frigid river.
The cold water wrenched the air from his lungs, and he struggled to reach the surface. With the icy tumult tossing him about, he kicked his way up and drew in a great breath when he finally broke free into the air. The weight of his pack kept him from comfortably riding the crest of the flow. The river seemed to try to pull him back down, the water trying to force its way down his throat and into his lungs.
As he was tossed about the current he slammed into one of the boulders dotting the river. He felt a blinding pain in his side as the air was forced out of him. He slid off the slick, algae covered rock and continued his drift downstream.
He gasped for breath and was rewarded with a mouth full of water. Coughing and sputtering, he took a quick look up the steep canyon walls where he saw his pursuers come to the edge he had just departed. Again they took hasty shots, as he drifted further downstream, but didn't come close to hitting him.
"You'd better hope you die down there," He heard one of them yell, "Because if you don't, we'll make sure you wish you had."
As he floated around a bend in the canyon, the two were lost to his sight. With sheer walls all around him, he did not attempt to climb out. Instead he let the current take him farther and farther away from danger.
The current was swift within the walls of the canyon, and he had to struggle to keep himself on the surface. It seemed like and eternity before he felt the waters calm and the cliffs drop away. With the forest pressing right up to the banks of the river, he floated under the canopy of branches. Looking for a place to leave the river, he saw where a large boulder broke the flow of the river, creating a small area, sheltered from the pull of the rivers current.
Kicking over to the eddy, he pulled himself out of the river. He staggered a few steps further into the forest and saw where a large tree had been leveled by the wind, leaving large bowl in the ground where the roots had torn up a great mass of earth.
A spruce, growing near the edge of the depression, was leaning slightly where the ground had been pulled from beneath its roots. Able to go no farther, he crawled into the small hollow where the wall of roots and the spruce boughs came together. Gage burrowed down into the leaves and pine needles and promptly passed out.